Last weekend, ESPN and Sky Atlantic welcomed a new event to their sports line up, putting a spotlight on an unlikely esport that is snowballing in popularity. Instead of battling it out over League of Legends or DOTA 2, the participants solve complex problems using Excel, which is a powerful spreadsheet program within Microsoft’s Office suite.
The organizers Financial Modeling World Cup (FMWC) likened the competition to an escape room quest, “but you’re in an Excel file and have 30 mins to get out!” The Excel Championship has built up quite the following on Twitch and YouTube, and the past weekend marked their big launch onto a mainstream TV channel via ESPN2. It would appear that the contest also enjoys Microsoft’s backing, too.
The ‘All-Star Battle’ took place in May but was televised as part of ESPN’s ‘The Ocho’, a 24-hour showcase of niche sports such as chase tag, dodge ball, and air guitar. Eight players in total took part, with each round the top 50% moving to the next until a final face-off between the two top competitors.
Far from the realms of standard office accounting, the players were asked to:
- Create a slot machine involving an emoji and points system.
- Create and simulate a yacht regatta based on a pre-determined data table of wind direction and strength.
- Complete a six-level platformer created in Excel.
The event is has spawned quite a strong march of interest, and has become popular enough to warrant a new Excel Open event in October, complete with a prize fund of $10,000. The FMWC website details additional upcoming events, with a European event taking place towards the end of August, along with the next stage of the World Cup taking place in September.
As of writing, the previous events have over half a million views on YouTube apiece, and will likely grow even further as a result of recent coverage. The traction this new ‘esport’ is generating has put an unlikely spotlight on the versatility of the Office tool kit. More and more esports are appearing that sidestep the twitchy reaction ceiling in games like Fortnite or Call of Duty, offering an alternative showcase to promote programming skills.
The tasks were designed to be completed in a maximum of 30 minutes, and are available to check out as free downloads if you want to see what it takes to be an Excel Grandmaster.